Government announces crackdown on exploitation and abuse in aid sector

The government has announced a package of measures to crackdown on sexual predators working in international aid charities, including a joint project with Interpol to stop abusers moving between organisations.

At today’s International Safeguarding Summit in London, international development secretary Penny Mordaunt announced that the Department for International Development and Interpol are to launch a pilot to halt the movement of sexual predators across agencies.

Called Operation Soteria, after the Greek goddess of safety, the joint Interpol and UK government project will see specialist teams deployed to Africa and Asia to strengthen criminal records checks and encourage information sharing.

Also involved are the ACRO Criminal Records Office and Save the Children, who are coordinating charities and other aid organisations taking part in the project.

In addition, the government is to support charities and other aid organisations to strengthen their systems to tackle sexual predators through an online platform that will build on existing Interpol systems. This will also include access to specialist investigators.

Aid worker passports will also be tested, whereby they have to prove their identity and provide information such as their vetting status. The government says this will make it easier for employers to gather up to date information on applicants for aid work.

Speaking at the summit Mordaunt said: “We need coordinated global action. If we’re really going to change the way aid works, the whole sector has to come together, and that has to be from today.”

She added: “There will be consequences for those who do harm, and those who allow harm to be done. Their time is up. There can be no excuse. No excuse for dereliction of duty.No excuse for complacency. And there can be no place for sexual exploitation and abuse in any sector. Let alone one which seeks to protect the vulnerable.

“Time is up for the predators, and it’s time for us to put people first.”

So far 15 organisations with around 50,000 staff have already signed up to a disclosure of misconduct scheme across the aid sector to prevent known perpetrators moving across organisations. Mordaunt hopes that around 100 will sign up by December.

Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock added: “A critical part of Interpol’s mission is to protect the most vulnerable members of society from the most dangerous.

“This is all the more important when sexual predators attempt to exploit the very people – be it men, women or children - they are supposed to be safeguarding from harm.”

During the summit Mordaunt’s speech was interrupted by a protestor, who accused the DfID of excluding women from plans to crackdown on abuse in the sector.

The protestor also raised concerns about Save the Children’s role in the plans announced by Mordaunt. In April the Charity Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity’s handling of allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members.

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